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The Right Note For Learning Music

Whether or not your children have a natural talent for music, learning how to play an instrument can help their development. For those parents looking to enrich the lives of their children with music, Miriam Arond, editor-in-chief of Child magazine, offers advice on Monday's The Early Show.

The Benefits: Many people believe that music lessons provide children with important developmental benefits beyond simply the knowledge or skill of playing a musical instrument. Research suggests that learning how to play an instrument may enhance academic achievement, build self-esteem and improve discipline. Best of all, playing an instrument is a great way for kids to express themselves.

When to Begin: Parents can foster their children's appreciation for music by exposing them to live and recorded music at a very young age. For instance, infants love soothing lullabies, while toddlers, with their growing verbal skills, enjoy songs with catchy melodies that repeat. These tunes teach kids about melody, rhythm, tones and sounds. Musical toys can also encourage musical development, but the choice of toys should make mechanical sounds, rather than electronic. With mechanical toys, the child's physical motions affect volume and tone. Examples include toy drums, harmonicas, maracas, xylophones and triangles.

Generally, when a child is able to sit still and focus for at least 20 minutes, it is a good sign they are ready to learn to play an instrument. Most group lessons and some private lessons begin around the age of 4 or 5, but the popular Suzuki teaching method, focusing on parental participation and playing by ear, allows for an earlier start at about age 3. By ages 6 to 9, children can begin more formal music training.

Choosing An Instrument: When choosing an instrument, begin by familiarizing your children with different kinds of instruments to help them decide what appeals to them. Other factors to consider are cost, the actual size of the instrument, and your child's personality. Your child may want an instrument with a social aspect to it. In other words, is it an instrument that can be part of a band/orchestra? Or is it a solitary instrument, like a piano?

Recorder: The recorder is always a favorite with children, because it is easy to make a sound, therefore fun to play. It's often taught as a first instrument in school. And, there's also no major financial investment with prices starting as low as $5. Available online from

Piano: The piano is one of the most popular instruments and is a very user-friendly. However, to play well requires self-discipline and practice. Although a more expensive instrument for the beginner than many others, purchasers should remember that the piano has a good life expectancy if well cared for. Alternatives to purchasing a new piano include renting or buying one second-hand.

Keyboard: Another popular choice for children is the electronic keyboard. It offers a wide array of sounds, rhythms and features, specially designed to entice the young player. Although it may serve as a good alternative to the piano (especially for parents who are not yet ready to make such a large investment), there is a vast difference in sound and feel between the two instruments. The keyboard's biggest advantages for many households is its size and cost, relative to the piano, and that it can be played with headphones on.

Violin: Children can begin the violin at a very early age because it is available in three quarter, half, quarter and even smaller scaled-down sizes. Although it may be a difficult instrument to learn, it undoubtedly has the largest repertoire (other than piano). Beginner instruments are relatively inexpensive at about $100, but as the quality increases so does the price - dramatically!

Guitar (Acoustic): The guitar is modestly priced and particularly popular with pre-adolescent kids. The instrument is often taught in large groups, which means cheaper lessons, and is capable of playing a range of styles. Prices start at about $100.

Choosing A Teacher: When choosing a music teacher for a young child, consider professional qualifications, teaching experience and personality. Ask around for recommendations and call the music departments at your local schools. Once you've collected some names, set up interviews to discuss the teacher's philosophy and approach. Then, ask to observe a lesson (preferably with a student close in age to your child), or attend a recital. It is important that your child observe the lesson as well. Keep in mind: a good teacher will introduce students to the world of music with excitement and encouragement.

Practice: Before starting your child's lessons, state your expectations about how long and how often you expect your child to practice. One of the biggest lessons in learning an instrument is the time you put into practicing. The art of learning to practice is a skill in itself, and will determine how well your child will play.

Recitals/Performances: Some music teachers hold recitals once or twice a year, and your child will be expected to participate. This can be a great experience and ego booster, but for kids who are really uncomfortable in the limelight, you may want to choose a teacher who doesn't insist on public performances.

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